'Eating', 'drinking' and 'smoking': A generic verb and its semantics in Manambu

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Many of the world’s languages have different forms for the concepts of ‘eating’ (solid food) and ‘drinking’ (liquid). Manambu, from the Ndu family in the Sepik region of New Guinea, has the same verb covering the notions of ‘eating’, ‘drinking’, smoking’ and ‘breast-feeding’. It also refers to destructive processes (‘drowning’ and ‘burning down’), and to the ritual distribution of a mortuary payment. The verb of consumption is similar to a number of general verbs in the language whose semantics is disambiguated by their object arguments. Having one form for all ingestive processes is a feature Manambu shares with many languages of New Guinea. Examples of a similar polysemy outside New Guinea come from a number of Australian languages, all adjacent to each other, pointing towards its diffusability.


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